If you’re a fan of books where a character starts out isolated from the world and from him or herself and then, gradually over the course of the book, comes closer to the rest of the world and becomes more of a social human being (like The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which the book group read and loved last year, not that I’m trying to prejudice you one way or the other), then you’re going to love the debut novel by Gail Honeyman*, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.
At the start of the book, you would be hard-pressed to describe Eleanor’s life as anything close to “fine.” She’s in her thirties, single, living alone and doing her best to avoid human contact as much as she can. She’s working as a clerk in a firm in Glasgow, Scotland, and is aware that her co-workers make fun of her for her appearance and her behavior. She doesn’t have any friends, and her one social interaction other than at work is a weekly call with Mummy, which are sufficiently damaging to her that she’d probably be better without them. She’s very particular and very dependent on her routines, which include crossword puzzles on her lunch hour and drinking too much vodka every weekend. She’s clearly suffering from depression, and her limited social skills lead her to believe this is one of those things she needs to keep from everybody else.
But life finds Eleanor despite her best efforts. She develops a crush on a popular singer, in an effort to please Mummy about her future, and she changes her appearance to attract him, which of course doesn’t work the way she intends. She reluctantly joins Raymond, a work colleague, in helping Sammy, an elderly stranger who’s fallen and hurt himself badly, and as the three of them spend more time together, their lives intertwine, and Eleanor begins to open up to the gentle and caring Raymond about her past, her present, and why she is the way she is. Raymond helps her to get therapy, and over the course of the book Eleanor comes to blossom, not into someone “normal”, but into the best Eleanor she can be.
The book has been compared not only to The Rosie Project (which would be enough of a recommendation for me), but also to bestsellers like A Man Called Ove. Give Eleanor a chance and she’ll charm you as she’s charmed other critics and readers.
*Yes, this does qualify as a debut novel for those of us doing the 2017 Reading Challenge.